When it comes to sexual exploitation of teen girls, a lot of people are guilty of taking the crime less seriously, simply because the survivor is “almost” an adult. As a Jezeble article on the arrest of financier Jeffrey Epstein, last week, on charges of sex trafficking pointed out, a lot of articles and news reporters used the words “underaged women” to describe the survivors in this case. Since his arrest over 90 radio and TV mentions of “underage women” alongside Epstein’s name, says the article. While Tracy Clark-Flory has questioned whether this reportage stems from the need to sympathise with Epstein, it’s not that difficult to see the mind-set behind such a commentary.

SOME TAKEAWAYS: 

  • Often the sexual exploitation of teenage girls doesn’t earn the crime the strong reprimand that it deserves.
  • There exists a grey area in our understanding of sexual abuse.
  • Have film and media played a role in normalisation of objectification of minors above a certain age?
  • Abuse of any person below the legal age of consent is a heinous crime.

A lot of men have no qualms sexualising young girls, still in their teens. These men aren’t themselves teens mind you, they are full blown adults, well in their twenties, thirties and so on and so forth.

It is alleged that some of Epstein’s victims were just 14 years old, reports the Guardian. He would lure minor teens to his home on the pretext of providing massages which would then progress into him allegedly sexually exploiting them. Close to home, I read a very disturbing post on social media (screenshot of someone’s feed) in which a man had written that if a girl was above 15 years of age, he had no issues raping her.

Also Read: Are We Ready To Lower The Age Of Sexual Consent To Sixteen?

There is grey area in our understanding of sexual exploitation, where wrong becomes right for a lot of people much to our horror. A lot of men have no qualms sexualising young girls, still in their teens. These men aren’t themselves teens mind you, they are full grown adults, well in their twenties, thirties and so on and so forth. In a country where rape is a word which only catches our attention when the victim is a child or has been heartlessly brutalised, one wonders, if such cases have also normalised sexual abuse of young girls over a certain age. We carry a certain understanding of child sexual abuse in our heads, and teenaged girls sadly don’t occupy much space in it. We have songs which objectify girls as young as sixteen and many people conveniently ignore the fact that the legal age of consent in India is 18.

Abuse of any person below the legal age of consent is a heinous crime. There shouldn’t be any sugar-coating of it.

But not just India, all around the world, a lot of people try to soften the sexual exploitation of young girls by using words like under-aged women. Does that terminology even make sense? If a girl is a minor, how can she be a woman? If there is a law in place which protects girls below a certain age in every country, shouldn’t it be respected, without any ifs and buts?

But here’s the thing, the culture of objectification doesn’t see age as a valid parameter to stop them from sexualising a person.  The normalisation of sexual exploitation may also groom 14 or 15-year-olds into believing that they are ready for sex. So, where did we go wrong? From literature to films to general diatribe, aren’t we all guilty of letting the objectification of young girls slide?

Time has come to take a strong black and white stand on this issue. Abuse of any person below the legal age of consent is a heinous crime. There shouldn’t be any sugar-coating of it. The age or gender of the minor shouldn’t colour our vision. A crime suddenly doesn’t become less grave because the survivor is close to the legal age of consent. Because such an attitude leads people to toe the line. If 17 is okay, so should 16, or 15. We can’t allow that to happen. Which is why we have to draw a firm line at the legal age of consent. Any kind of sexual relationship with a minor below that age is a grave punishable offense. Unworthy of any reasoning or sympathy with the perpetrator. For some issues, right and wrong should be essentially just that. There can’t be an in-between.

Also Read: Pope Francis Acknowledges Sexual Abuse Of Nuns In Church

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own. 

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